Copenhagen, Denmark: Not a Progressive Dream Country, Some Final Thoughts

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Copenhagen, Denmark, photo Denise Ames

My Baltic Sea cruise had ended and now my three days in Copenhagen was drawing to a close. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the city and had many fond memories of the people and sites. This blog is about a few final thoughts I would like to share with you on Denmark.

I can understand why many progressive Democrats in America, such as Bernie Sanders, have put forth the idea that American society should adopt many of the Danish values and policies for our country. The Danes are very conscientious, respect the environment, emphasize education, and collective in their policies. A Democratic Socialist dream country. But after just three days in Copenhagen and a bit of research when I got home, I could understand why implementing Danish style political/social policies would be a disaster in the US. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Here is why I came to this conclusion.

Danish schoolchildren, photo Denise Ames

First, Denmark is a very homogenous country. Although the number of immigrants, especially refugees from Syria, has increased, it primarily is a white country, more so outside Copenhagen than in the city. Homogenous groups tend to trust each other more; hence, they are more apt to trust policies that help the collective. The US is just the opposite. Although we “celebrate diversity” as a good thing, one of the downsides is that we are less apt to trust each other. Can’t have it both ways.

Rows of bikes in Copenhagen, photo Denise Ames

Second, I was surprised to find that there is a great deal of conformity in Denmark. The “odd” person is often pressured into accepting established norms of behavior by neighbors, co-workers, family members, and others. In the US, we tend to want to express our unique identity and resent those who pressure us to conform to social norms and behaviors. In Copenhagen, conformity was evidenced in their bicycle riding. I was surprised to see them all comply with the laws, and conform to bicycle etiquette so uniformly.

Third, the Danes have an elaborate authority structure that belies their seeming freedom. One that I witnessed was the popularity of their queen and her family. They seemed to respect the tradition and want to continue it. From my readings, this respect is felt throughout Denmark. Americans have a quite robust anti-authority streak.

Guarding the royal palace, Copenhagen, photo Denise Ames

Fourth, one of the attributes I hear from the progressive camp about Denmark is that all education is free and universal. College is completely paid for by the state. However, they fail to say that the standards for entry into the university are very rigorous. Many do not qualify. There are no private colleges to go to if an individual does not qualify. Although technical and other forms of education are available, it is your test scores that mainly determine where your educational dreams will be channeled. Along with many programs to assist underserved populations and promising individuals, we have an assortment of educational opportunities open to us. Loans are available. Our test scores are not necessarily our destiny.

Fifth, Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries have a long history (thousands of years) of collective cooperation. Because of their harsh climate, cooperation was a necessity for survival. This tradition has continued to the present generation. On the other hand, the US, with a much shorter history, is based on individualism. Most of the settlers and recent immigrants drawn to this country from around the world were (are) individualistic in spirit. This sense of individualism has continued. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to change this individualistic spirit to a collectivist one merely by passing legislation.

Going against the grain in Syria, photo Denise Ames

For those who continue to regard Denmark as the perfect country for progressive values, the country has recently attempted to send refugees from Syria back to their country of origin, determining that it is now safe to do so. This has met with fierce resistance by refugees who do not want to return Syria. Progressives would be aghast at this action.

Even though I do not regard Denmark as a progressive dream country, I still found on my short visit that it has many admirable qualities. It is an open and welcoming country. Their citizens seem humble and are eager to accommodate visitors. They value education, learning, and family. Their emphasis on providing “wholesome” family experiences was expressed everywhere—from the Little Mermaid statue to the fun center at Tivoli Gardens. Denmark is even home to the Lego Company. Also, their emphasis on the environment was reassuring to me that they think about the future and want it to as promising for their children as possible. 

Indeed, there is a lot for Americans to learn from the Danes, but copying their government is not one of them.

This wraps up my series of blog on the countries I visited during my Baltic Sea cruise. Please join me by reading my next several blogs about my home state of New Mexico (almost like a foreign country).

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out our offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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